J Street Welcomes Plan to Return United States to Full UNESCO Membership

June 13, 2023

J Street applauds the Biden Administration’s agreement with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officials to return the United States to its status as a full voting member of the multilateral body.

The aftermath of the Trump Administration’s 2017 decision to withdraw from full US membership in UNESCO, and the 2011 suspension of US contributions that was required by law when Palestine was admitted to the agency, showed how the interests of the US and our allies, including Israel, are undermined when the United States abdicates responsibility and influence at the UN.

While UNESCO’s member states have a history of passing resolutions and taking other actions that were biased against Israel, US withdrawal did nothing to address this problem. On the contrary, it simply diminished US leverage and impact, depriving Israel of the diplomatic weight of its most vocal and powerful advocate in the organization and ceding influence in the body to competitors like China.

Much of UNESCO’s important work suffered as a result of the suspension of US contributions and full participation, including programs on anti-extremism, education including about the Holocaust, literacy, science, clean water and equal treatment for girls and young women. These are issues of tremendous significance to global security and stability – and that have long been important to the American Jewish community. That is why J Street was proud to successfully lobby for legislation that would allow the US to resume its contributions — and thus its full participation — in UNESCO. 

We are also proud to lead the charge to repeal the underlying law requiring the United States to defund any UN specialized agency which admits Palestine as a member. A self-defeating measure which has proven harmful to US and Israeli essential interests, the law makes US participation in any of the UN agencies that America helped establish in the post-war era contingent on decisions made by the Palestinian leadership. Making participation in such institutions as the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunications Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency entirely subject to the choices of a foreign government is not something any other sovereign country would tolerate, let alone do to itself. 

The law quite literally subordinates nearly every other US global interest to the vagaries of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and does so in a way which gives Palestinian leaders more, not less, leverage to impact US and Israeli interests. It is long past time to repeal it entirely.